Who’s been fishing in our backyard? Someone’s Herring a laugh!


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AS PART OF ITS ANALYSIS of the EU’s database of fish catches has mapped landings for each of the EU members fishing in the UK for each of the ICES rectangles in the NE. Atlantic in the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) both in terms of the overall catch and for a panel of individual species.

Figure 1 is a section of one such map showing landings of Herring from the rectangles to the south east of the Shetlands in 2016.

Figure 1

A 5 x 3 grid of ICES rectangles with the Shetlands in the NW corner.

The grid consists of rectangles 46 to 50 E8, E9 and F0 and stretches from 58°30’ N to 61° N and 2°W to 1°E.

It measures approximately 150 nm N-S and 90 nm E-W; an area of some 13,500 square nm.

Each of the ICES rectangles, bounded by double lines, contains a grid of smaller cells representing the tonnes landed from the rectangle by the fleet in question, in this case tonnes of Herring in 2016.

Table 1 below presents the totals caught by the various national fleets in this area of sea, which lies between the Shetlands and the mainland of Scotland and all of which lies within the UK EEZ. It is, in short, very much our own backyard.

Table 1: 2016 Herring landings from the area shown in Figure 1

Value based on average 2018 UK first sale price [1], Defra

As can be seen from Table 1, the UK is ‘out-herringed’ by the rest of the EU by more than 4 to 1 in its own backyard. Scotland catches less than either Denmark or the Netherlands in UK waters that lie between Shetland and the Scottish mainland that are far closer to Scotland than they are to either Denmark or the Netherlands. For its part, the rest of the UK lands less from these waters than does Germany.

Herring is a relatively low value pelagic fish caught in large quantities. Based on average 2018 first sale prices in the UK (£364.0/tonne), £41.46 million of herring was extracted from these waters by EU27 boats in 2016. What’s more, these figures don’t include the Herring landed by Norwegian or Faroese boats from these waters in exchange for rights to fish in the Norwegian or Faroe Islands EEZs granted to EU boats.

How representative is the picture painted by Figure 1 and Table 1 of the overall situation regarding Herring? It is, after all, a small fraction of the area in the NE Atlantic fished by the EU for Herring and these are figures for just one year. Has your author deliberately cherry-picked an area of sea or year where the EU27 took an exceptionally large haul and the UK a low one in order to make a dramatic point? Does the picture change if we zoom out and look at the NE Atlantic as a whole or the average situation over a number of years?

Table 2 breaks average annual Herring landings for the years between 2010 and 2016 down between the UK and EU27 fleets and the UK EEZ and the rest of the NE Atlantic, as defined by the DS filter of the STECF database referred to above. 2010 was chosen as the start because it is the first year for which the EU database contained data for all fleets fishing in the UK EEZ and 2016 as the end because it is the last year covered by the 2017 data call. It is, in short, the complete sequence of years for which there is a full data set.

Table 2 Breakdown of average annual Herring landings 2010—2016

NE Atlantic (STECF DS filter)   

As Table 2 shows, across the whole of the NE Atlantic, the UK landed 23.3 per cent of the Herring but 77.5 per cent was landed from the UK EEZ. That means that 197.1 more kilotonnes of Herring were landed from the UK EEZ than the UK fleet itself landed. Had those Herring been landed by the UK fleet then, at average UK first sale prices in 2018, that would have been worth £71.7 million to the UK every year.

Your author confesses. The example he chose earlier does indeed exaggerate the situation. Across the whole of the NE Atlantic and averaged over the seven years in question, the EU27 ‘out-herringed’ the UK by only slightly more than three to one, not in excess of four to one. What’s more, it didn’t land all of its NE Atlantic Herring from the UK EEZ, just three quarters of them.

Mea culpa, I apologize for such egregious misrepresentation. (Wink, wink – Ed.)

A tale of two seas

But when it comes to being egregious, I’m in good company. I might point to the fact that whilst the EU27 are happy to fish in our backyard there is a substantial herring fishery on the other side of the North Sea where our boats are very definitely not invited to fill their nets. Table 3 shows average annual Herring landings from the Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic for the years 2010-2016 by the EU28 members that fish in them

Table 3: National breakdown of average annual Herring landings 2010—2016

Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic (SK&B)

The Danish EEZ is actually 105,989 km2 in area and the German 57,484 km2 but both are partially in the North Sea. In addition to EU members, Russia has some EEZ in the Baltic. The areas for the SK&B EEZs for Denmark, Germany and Russia are rough estimates. The Netherlands is included in the above table because it does catch limited quantities of fish in the Skagerrak and Kattegat but it has no SK&B EEZ.

Two of the EU27 that land fish from the area defined in Figure 1, Germany (more than the Rest of the UK in Table 1) and Denmark (more than Scotland in Table 1) also fish in the Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic but land relatively small shares compared with some of their Baltic neighbours. Both land less than their geographic share (though the estimate of their SK&B EEZs are approximations) but the only other nation in the Table 3 to catch less than its geographic share of Herring is Sweden, which is also the only the other nation on the list, apart from the Netherlands, to catch fish in the NE Atlantic. Table 4 repeats the breakdown undertaken for Table 2 but in this instance for the four member states that catch some Herring in both the NE Atlantic and the SK&B: Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Table 4: Breakdown of average annual Herring landings 2010—2016

NE Atlantic (STECF DS filter): Denmark, Germany, the Netherland, Sweden   

Landings by the SK&B Four from the UK EEZ represented just under half of total EU28 landings from the NE Atlantic and these four landed just under two thirds of the Herring landed from the UK EEZ, yet in the SK&B, the sea where, apart from the Netherlands, the bulk of their EEZ lies, their aggregate landings of Herring represented 37.4 per cent of the SK&B total against a 54.2 per cent share of the EEZ.

If your author was of a suspicious nature he might wonder whether by providing the SK&B Four with opportunities in the NE Atlantic the CFP’s sacred cows of relative stability and non-discriminatory access were being used to reduce the need for these four to land Herring from the Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic – so allowing Finland, Poland, Latvia and Estonia to all land more than their geographic share.

Are, in effect, Finnish fishermen being allocated fishing opportunities at the expense of their Scottish counterparts elsewhere?

Although EU27 Herring landings from SK&B were 67.6 per cent of those from the NE Atlantic, Denmark, a country with more of its EEZ in the SK&B than the North Sea, landed roughly seven times as much Herring from the NE Atlantic as from the SK&B and slightly more than a third as much as Poland, despite having a larger SK&B EEZ than Poland. Germany landed over twice as much Herring from the NE Atlantic as from the SK&B, whilst Sweden, a nation with not a centimetre of coastline on the North Sea still landed a handy bonus of 13.1 kt from the NE Atlantic. What’s more, it’s not just that these nations landed a disproportionate amount from the NE Atlantic compared with the SK&B, as Table 4 makes clear they didn’t just land it from anywhere in the NE Atlantic, they didn’t land it from their own EEZs or close to their own shores, they landed the bulk of it from the UK EEZ and Scottish waters in particular.

Is any of this fair?

Regardless of whether the current arrangements are fair or not, might a readjustment of opportunities in the NE Atlantic have consequences elsewhere?

If certain fleets have been taking less than their geographic share from the SK&B because of the opportunities allocated to them in the NE Atlantic then, should those opportunities vanish, might they not press for the opportunities that their share of the EEZ would entitle them to in the SK&B at the expense of those currently landing more than their geographic share from there?

Might this in turn lead to EU members that do not fish in the UK EEZ supporting the opposition to a readjustment of fishing opportunities between the UK and the EU27 not because of their direct involvement in this readjustment but because of its domino effect rippling through opportunities in fishing zones that are not the primary focus of the negotiations?

[1] The rationale for using average 2018 UK prices rather than prices for the year in question or averaged over the same time period as landings, or local prices for where the fish were landed is that the point of the article is not to present a historical review of what something was worth to the UK or some other fleet at some point in the past but what it might be worth to the UK in the future; and, at the time of writing, average 2018 prices are the most recent widely available figures.


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